New Orleans, LA--(AP/ CBSsports.com), When the NFL announced Friday that it had discovered the New Orleans Saints were guilty of maintaining a "bounty program" for three seasons, it said it could fine or suspend those involved. It also said it could dock the Saints draft picks.
Well, here's a suggestion: Do all three.
This isn't the New England Patriots and Spygate. This is far more serious, with a club rewarding its players for injuring others -- something that's in direct conflict with the NFL's drive for player safety.
So make the Saints pay. No, make them suffer as they made opponents suffer.
Gregg Williams, then the defensive coordinator, ran the program. I would suspend him, and I would fine him. Severely. Coach Sean Payton apparently knew about it and did nothing. The same goes for GM Mickey Loomis. I would fine them and suspend them, too.
Then start subtracting draft picks.
A source I trust told me it's "very, very likely" there will be suspensions, and there should be. Commissioner Roger Goodell spent much of the past few years preaching the wisdom and importance of player safety -- with the league implementing measures to make the game a better place for its players. The latest collective bargaining agreement was aimed at player safety, too, with the league and NFL Players Association agreeing on measures that tried to make the game safer for those involved.
Apparently, the Saints didn't get the memo. Worse, they flouted it, and if you witnessed the 2009 NFC Championship Game you know what I'm talking about. It was clear that afternoon that the Saints were going after then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, not just to hit him but to hurt him.
I'm not talking about banging the guy around; I'm talking about crippling him.
They took two penalties for hitting the quarterback and should have drawn a third when Saints defensive lineman Bobby McCray crushed Favre below the knees, injuring his ankle. The score was tied at 21, and Favre threw a crucial interception on the play.
"It's the type of hit that we don't want," then-vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said afterward. "Pretty much a direct shot into the back of [Favre's] legs."
Favre limped off the field, only to return later, but he could not rescue the Vikings from an overtime defeat. Afterward, Minnesota assistants fumed at what they believed were Williams' direct orders to injure Favre, with at least one telling me that he was "going to punch the guy in the face" when he saw him again.
He wasn't alone. I asked then-Vikings coach Brad Childress about it the following August, and he was emphatic in his suspicions of the Saints' intentions.
"Do you think they tried to hurt Favre?" I asked him.
"Yes," he said. "As I look through 13 different clips ... as I looked at it, yes. I talk about hitting the quarterback every week, [saying things like] this guy is a different guy if you hit him, if you make him move his feet. But I just felt if you go back and look at that thing it was whatever, whoever. ... I just know they orchestrated some things that weren't within our rules.
"I don't know if Brett ever looked at it, but we looked at it. I had one of my defensive linemen tell me, 'Coach, that's what they had; they were going after him. Just like you saw the week before with [the Cardinals' Kurt] Warner.'"
Running back Adrian Peterson told me the same thing, and, clearly, the league was listening.
"They definitely tried to hurt [Favre]," Peterson said then. "They definitely went out of their way."
Of course, it didn't matter because the Saints went to the Super Bowl and the Vikings did not. Then the Saints walked off with their first NFL title while the Vikings walked to the next tee.
Nothing was done two years ago, but plenty should be done now. Because now we have evidence from the NFL office that what the Saints did was illegal, improper and downright wrong. They did what clubs are warned not to do, and they did it over and over and over.
Read the NFL's release, and it's clear that few in New Orleans outside of owner Tom Benson took the league seriously about player safety. I don't know why. I just know the release said they kept repeating what they knew they should not do.
And why not? It helped win them a Super Bowl.
So there's nothing we can do about that. But there's something that can be done now, and the NFL must make it absolutely, positively clear that it will not tolerate anything like this. Fining the Saints won't do it. Subtracting draft picks is a start, and the league did that in Spygate -- taking away a first-round choice, as well as fining coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots a total of $750,000.
But that's not enough. The league insists it's serious about player safety. Well, now it's time to demonstrate it. It must prove that it cannot and will not tolerate clubs running Pay-for-Pain Programs, and suspending all of those who helped run this charade should get the message through.
NEW YORK -- New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach maintained a bounty program the past three seasons for inflicting game-ending injuries on opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner -- a pool that reached as much as $50,000 and paid specific amounts for "cart-offs" and "knockouts," the NFL said Friday.
The report said the pool amounts reached their height in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The league said between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved in the program and that it was administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with the knowledge of coach Sean Payton.
No punishments have been handed out, but they could include suspension, fines and loss of draft picks. The league said the findings were corroborated by multiple, independent sources, in an investigation by the league's security department.
In a statement, Williams said the program was a "terrible mistake and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it."
Now the defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, Williams added, "I am truly sorry" and promised not to participate in similar activities again.
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"The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for 'performance,' but also for injuring opposing players," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "The bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity."
Payoffs included $1,500 for a "knockout" and $1,000 for a "cart-off," with payouts doubling or tripling during the playoffs.
"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated," Goodell said. "We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it."
The league absolved Saints owner Tom Benson of any blame, but said the investigation showed Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis knew about the bounty program.
"Although head coach Sean Payton was not a direct participant in the funding or administration of the program, he was aware of the allegations, did not make any detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts, and failed to stop the bounty program. He never instructed his assistant coaches or players that a bounty program was improper and could not continue," the NFL said.
When informed about it earlier this year, the NFL said Benson directed Loomis, to "ensure that any bounty program be discontinued immediately." However, the NFL's report said the evidence showed Loomis did not carry out Benson's directions, and that in 2010 Loomis denied any knowledge of a bounty program.
"There is no evidence that Mr. Loomis took any effective action to stop these practices," the NFL said.
Benson responded to the NFL's report saying: "I have been made aware of the NFL's findings relative to the 'Bounty Rule' and how it relates to our club. I have offered and the NFL has received our full cooperation in their investigation. While the findings may be troubling, we look forward to putting this behind us and winning more championships in the future for our fans."
New OrleansThe NFL began its investigation in early 2010 after receiving allegations that quarterbacks Warner of Arizona and Favre of Minnesota had been targeted. After interviewing several Saints who denied the bounty program existed -- and having the player who originally made the allegations recant -- the league couldn't prove anything.
However, Goodell said the NFL "recently received significant and credible new information and the investigation was re-opened during the latter part of the 2011 season."
Favre's agent, Bus Cook, said he was unaware of the investigation until Friday. He said the Saints should have been penalized for several hard, late hits during the 2009 NFC Championship Game and that he believed the contact was not coincidental.
"It was pretty obvious that the intent was to take Brett out of the game, and it happened the week before with Kurt Warner, too," Cook said. "I don't know anything about whether it was by design or whatever, but I think a lot of people shared that same viewpoint that there were some hits that didn't get called."
Cook, however, said Favre never suggested to him he was maliciously targeted.
"That's part of football, getting hit," Cook said. "Brett never complained to me one way or another."
Responding to a fan's comment on Twitter that -- even if the Saints had a bounty program -- t
That does not include the players. There are, according to the NFL, between 22 and 27 of them who participated, but they're not the guys who orchestrated it. At least, not to my knowledge. They did what they were told, which is what players do. Coaches coach, and players play. They don't ask why a play is called; they just run it.
So they participated in a program that Williams, Payton and Loomis knew was wrong, and they made money doing it. I don't know if they knew it was wrong, but I can't fault them if they did not. It's not their job to know the NFL's constitution and bylaws. It's the jobs of their coaches, GMs and front-office executives, and, sorry, all were asleep at the wheel.
Worse, they were willing participants. The program helped them once, but it should hurt them now. So make them pay, and make them pay dearly.